Cognitive overload in the modern workplace

by Amanda Childs

Group HR Director 

Kyocera Group UK

Like many other HR professionals, I find myself with key challenges that are competing for the skills and attention of myself and my team.

The relentless pace of changing technology, human needs and uncertainty at all levels makes the demands of any HR professional more ‘stressed’ than ever.

Business challenges or HR headaches – however we label them – all need time and effort to resolve and the time to do so feels very illusive.

Slaves to the ping

I’ve noticed and observed the addiction that we have to our technology, be it wearables, phones or laptops. 

The pull of interacting with our devices is compulsive and addictive; everyone appears to be driven to interact and it feels as though this desire is becoming more and more addictive. This addiction creates a real issue within businesses, with an assumption that everything has to be done immediately. This approach drives us to focus on the now and limits our ability to see beyond the invented crisis from the latest notification.

I witness all too often that the ping of the phone leads to the current conversation switching to the new notification, stealing time and attention away from the business topic that was being discussed.

Information paralysis

We all have access to more information than ever and the ability to discern what is and is not needed has become an art. Everyone has a slightly different preference for how their information should be organised and how it is received. Problems therefore take longer to solve, and often even more information is requested – creating more paralysis – to solve a problem that already had sufficient data to act. 

We are increasingly becoming addicted to even more data and more isolation, losing our sense of community driven problem solving.

‘Geared-up’ to work at speed

Now we connect quicker, pass information faster and make more decisions more rapidly. Our ability to work quickly with competence does not match our expectations, and employee output is often out of balance.

With five generations in the workplace, spanning a huge variety and richness in experience, the technology playing field is not a level one, as everyone has differing skillsets and capabilities.

It is also fair to say that technology in all its glory is also not as intuitive and user friendly as many of us expect either, with the requirement of persistent and relentless learning. This takes time and effort in a world where the clock does not stop for us to keep up.

Overcoming the impasse

01 Be Human

We need to acknowledge and support human beings as human beings, not as productive robots that can just run the engine in an industrialised way. Work practices will need to modernise to account for societal shifts and expectations, as well as incorporating the latest neuroscience as we progress. As we are all competing for fewer resources, employees will need a more rounded approach, other than just salary and benefits. The changing dynamics of the workforce will make this more difficult and large corporates will find this space occupied in new ways.

02 Create connected communities.

We will all need to engage in a transformation of people practices, we will need to work to provide not just nicely decorated workspaces with bowls of fruit. We will need to look for practices that encourage connection and community in a way that we have forgotten over time. Our individualisation has changed us and whilst there are many positives, time will demonstrate that this approach has left us feeling emptier than we realise and organisations can fill a gap in the workplace, but communities will need building.

03 Adapt to succeed.

We will all need to embrace continuous upskilling and reskilling. Continued professional development is essential and every employee will now need new skills to enable them to adapt to the changing workplace. Leadership will be under new pressures as the workforce changes, so being proactive with learning will be a keyway to unlock business and personal performance.